Philadelphia’s Zahav: Michael Solomonov’s Modern Israeli Masterpiece

The food served here is exciting and vibrant
Editor
Zahav

Dan Myers

Ribeye for two is slow-roasted before being grilled.

Zahav is one of the toughest tables in Philadelphia and with good reason: chef/ owner Michael Solomonov is turning out some spectacular Israeli-inspired creations there, hewing close to traditional flavor profiles but toying with cuisine of the Jewish diaspora. The result is fun, inspired, and so delicious that you’ll be licking your plate clean. It can easily be argued that Zahav is the most important and outstanding Israeli restaurant in America.

Zahav Hummus

Dan Myers


During a recent visit at the invitation of the restaurant, we started with silky and ethereally light cumin-tinged hummus mixed with nutty, garlicy tehina and served with fresh-baked laffa. This could have been a meal unto itself, and it’s the centerpiece of his Dizengoff, which just opened a second location in New York City. The salatim are also a must-order, a collection of salads served in small bowls: beets, eggplant, carrots with pine nuts, okra, corn, and cucumber served as the base of each, and they were each so delicately spiced and deeply flavorful that, again, they could have been a perfect vegetarian meal unto themselves.

The menu is primarily composed of small plates (mezze): crisp fried cauliflower with creamy labneh and dill; asparagus with feta, hazelnuts, and a soft-cooked egg; grilled duck hearts with peaches and a heady Egyptian mix of herbs, nuts, and spices called dukkah; and grilled haloumi with sour cherries, pistachios, and crispy shredded pastry called kataifi. Meats and vegetable skewers grilled over coals (al ha’esh in Hebrew, meaning “on the fire”) include lamb and beef kofte, chicken, sirloin, eggplant, and branzino, each with their own unique seasonings and accompaniments. For dessert, chocolate konafi for two (the restaurant’s signature dessert), a buttery pastry made with threads of semolina dough loaded with labneh, chocolate, and pistachio, was nothing short of insanely decadent.

Zahav Dessert

Dan Myers


You can order a la carte or choose from two additional options: Tayim (salatim and hummus with laffa, two mezze, one al ha’esh, and dessert) and Mesibah (salatim and hummus with laffa, a selection of mezze, a special entrée to share, and dessert). When we visited, Mesibah entrée options were roasted lamb shoulder with pomegranate and chickpeas and slow-roasted and seared ribeye with romesco. We couldn’t pass up the latter, and the thin-sliced steak was perfectly cooked, super-tender from the roasting process, and — no surprise here — insanely flavorful. Oh, and the selection of Israeli wines is one of the best you’ll find outside of the country itself.

The flavors being created in Zahav’s wood-burning oven-dominated kitchen are paradigm-shifting. If you’re not accustomed to Israeli cuisine or think that all Middle Eastern food is just shish kebabs and falafel, then there’s a good chance that a meal here will be a mind-blowing experience for you. Open your mind, settle in, and prepare to go on a culinary journey you won’t soon forget. Zahav isn't just one of the most exciting Israeli restaurants in America; it's one of the most exciting restaurants in America, period.

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